Old heads derail Sunderland

Sunderland 1 Reading 2
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The Independent Football

Mick McCarthy is regularly at pains to tell his substitutes they are on the bench for more than to merely warm their backsides.

Mick McCarthy is regularly at pains to tell his substitutes they are on the bench for more than to merely warm their backsides.

Yet that is exactly where the Sunderland manager might like to have left them on Saturday, as his opposite number Steve Coppell undoubtedly came out on top in the tactical changes that swung this contest. Reading trailed to Julio Arca's headed eighth goal of the season on 52 minutes, and despite an inspired display from the goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, looked likely to concede again until Coppell introduced the vastly experienced Martin Keown.

Keown's fellow 38-year-old Les Ferdinand joined the fray shortly afterwards, and the former Newcastle United forward ignored the mindless abuse from home supporters to set up Dave Kitson's 76th-minute equaliser with a trademark flick-on.

Sunderland's cameos played an active role in halting their eight-game winning run with a first home defeat in four months which, with Sunday's trip to Ipswich Town looming large, blows the Championship title race wide open.

Brian Deane barely touched the ball, yet the veteran forward wasn't as culpable as Jeff Whitley, who had been on the pitch three minutes when he clumsily brought down Steve Sidwell to concede a penalty. Kitson easily struck his 19th league goal of the season past Michael Ingham, the substitute goalkeeper.

Coppell said: "It's an interesting conundrum how to get the best out of the two experienced lads, whether to play them from the start and let them burn themselves out, or just bring them on as we did today. They might be our elder statesmen but they still have great desire."

Sunderland head to Portman Road for a potential title decider and are likely to be without either of their two first-choice goalkeepers. But Carl Robinson, the midfielder whose first-half header hit the bar, insisted: "We're relishing the trip down there. It'll be a great occasion and hopefully there'll be 38 more like it in the Premiership next season."

Goals: Arca (52) 1-0; Kitson (76) 1-1; Kitson (pen 81) 1-2.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Myhre (Ingham, 46): Wright, Breen, Caldwell, McCartney; Lawrence (Whitley, 70), Robinson, Whitehead, Arca; Stewart, Brown (Deane, 77). Substitutes not used: Elliott, Collins.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson (Keown, 56), Shorey; Newman (Ferdinand, 66), Harper, Sidwell, Brooker; Forster, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Hughes (gk), Morgan, Young.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Sunderland Wright, Robinson, Brown.

Man of the match: Hahnemann.

Attendance: 34,237.